JAMA. 2021;325(10):998-999. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1505
Prior to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the efficacy of community mask wearing to reduce the spread of respiratory infections was controversial because there were no solid relevant data to support their use. During the pandemic, the scientific evidence has increased. Compelling data now demonstrate that community mask wearing is an effective nonpharmacologic intervention to reduce the spread of this infection, especially as source control to prevent spread from infected persons, but also as protection to reduce wearers’ exposure to infection.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets exhaled when infected people breathe, talk, cough, sneeze, or sing. Most of these droplets are smaller than 10 μm in diameter, often referred to as aerosols. The amount of small droplets and particles increases with the rate and force of airflow during exhalation (eg, shouting, vigorous exercise). Exposure is greater the closer a person is to the source of exhalations. Larger droplets fall out of the air rapidly, but small droplets and the dried particles formed from them (ie, droplet nuclei) can remain suspended in the air. In circumstances with poor ventilation, typically indoor enclosed spaces where an infected person is present for an extended period, the concentrations of these small droplets and particles can build sufficiently to transmit infection.